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Two Ways of Knowing

Left Right Brain
Image - Kieran D. Kelly: What Drives Deep Creativity?

By Peter Shepherd

There are two parallel ways of knowing: thinking and feeling, intellect and intuition, objective analysis and subjective insight. It’s to do with the structure of the brain and how the left and right brain hemispheres function differently. The left brain has the ability to construct a reality, to make up a story or to lie; the right brain hasn’t that ability whatsoever, it simply doesn’t work in that way of a sequence of things or logic, it works in the way of direct perception of reality and remembering real experience and feelings. Very different.

People may analyze the good and bad points of a politician's argument and then vote on their gut feelings. Many times researchers try repeatedly to figure out a problem and then have a dream or sudden insight in which the answer presents itself as a metaphor intuitively comprehended by the scientist. In another context, a person may sense about another, "His words sound reasonable but something tells me not to trust him..." Both sides of the brain are at work, processing the same information in different ways.

Our Left & Right Brain Hemispheres
So the brain functions in two quite different modes. The first 'left brain' mode is linear, logical, verbal thinking, which we normally identify as our mind. The second 'right brain' mode is the holistic, intuitive, non-verbal functioning of the right hemisphere.

The right brain has a perception but it’s not an understanding. It’s how emotions come through, and also intuition and spiritual insight comes from the right brain in terms of images and feelings, but that has to be interpreted by the left brain and understood in some way. So the two work together as a team and are as important as each other.

When there’s stuff in the right brain that the left brain doesn’t want to look at, like things the person has done wrong, or painful experience, then there isn’t a balance between the two sides and the input from the right brain is cut off, it's suppressed, and this can become habitual or even permanent. The left brain can use rationalizations and excuses and justifications, invented so as not to not look further at the reality of what was felt and experienced.

Collaboration & Integration
You might say that the left brain is chalk and the right brain the blackboard. The left side is linear, it cannot deal with more than one thing at a time, and it forgets strings of words or numbers rather rapidly. The right side holds the gestalt, the overview. It can compare many things simultaneously and its memory of pictures, feelings and emotions is permanent. It is like 'figure and ground', subject and background, focused imaging and overall perception.

Mostly our consciousness resides in the left, organizing hemisphere but this does not mean that the right side is inactive - it continues like the shining of stars in the daytime, there but unperceived. If the left hemisphere has become excessively dominant, the right hemisphere has reduced opportunity to share in consciousness, being blocked in various ways, and can only express itself in deeply subconscious functions, often only apparent in dreams.

Full consciousness arises from a collaborative and open integration of the two ways of knowing.

Unfortunately our modern culture - books, schools, universities, industry, political structures, churches - is largely left-brained in learning, application and operation. We have generally regarded right-brain functions with suspicion, frustration and awe.

In fact we use our right brain throughout our daily lives in many subtle ways. While the left-brain serves our consciousness, our verbal thought sequence, the right-brain serves our awareness, our overview. Though the left-brain seems to predominate and to coordinate, it is the right side that provides a broader perspective. It sees the context and views the parts of an event as its gestalt. It is the right-brain that takes the facts worked out by the left-brain and can make proper conclusions (connections) from them. It makes facts meaningful.

Left Brain
Right Brain

Cogs in the machine
In our society, all too often we’re trained to be cogs in a machine with reading, writing and arithmetic. We're not so often taught to be creative. The reason for that is you can only really be creative if you are being yourself, finding something which inspires you, not something that you have been instructed is required to earn a living. And creative people are a threat because by their nature they’re working outside of the box and they are being open minded. Whereas creative training is the ideal stimulus for left-right brain communication. The most enlightened schooling methods use a great deal of creative exercises and practical methods to encourage the children to be themselves, bring out their real personality and aspirations. They encourage children to express their feelings, and understand them, not to suppress them. So they teach creative, emotional and spiritual intelligence, as well as logical intelligence.

There is a gender thing in this... If you live in the left brain and you’re full of excuses and justifications, you need always to be right and you lose touch with your feelings or find them hard to express, well, these are masculine characteristics. On the other hand, if you go to personal development seminars, particularly if they’re a bit spiritual, emotional or to do with health - it’s largely women there. They are much more open to their intuitions and knowing, and also spiritual abilities like telepathy and whatever. However, we’re all capable of that, we just need to open up.

Expressing love - making the human heart visible
If we cut out authentic love from the equation – particularly in our society it is something that men find so difficult to deal with – then we are cutting out the human being from our consciousness. Our soul. We are also cutting out universal truth because that is always guided by love. It’s the best guide we have for how to live our life: “Is this choice guided by love?” Because that question is always true, for us, in its answer. In that way, life is incredibly simple and you’re not depending on any beliefs from other people, anything intellectual, nor any code or dogma.

This will sound familiar, after all, it’s what Jesus wanted too. He said the Kingdom of God is within you. He wanted everyone to be their loving self. It became distorted by religious dogma but Jesus had it right in the first place. He understood the simplicity of it, “What would I do in the name of love?” In other words, what I would do if I am being true my essential loving nature.

The more you get into that way of looking, in the present moment, grateful for all that you perceive, all the connections you have, all that’s going on, and authentic to your own values – you can’t help but be incredibly happy with a big smile. Gratitude and integrity are the keys to happiness.

Mindfulness is not just "being aware of the present,"however. Yes, it is that, but also it's being aware when we are interpreting the past as something to regret or be guilty about, in a reactive way - rather than as experience to learn from consciously. And to be aware when we are interpreting the future as something to fear, to be worried about, in a reactive way - rather than consciously planning what we are going to do for the best outcome.

Mindfulness is being the person you are in any moment, fully present to yourself and others in the here and now. Accepting realistically what is. Able therefore to respond, rather than to react, to the current circumstances. Mindfulness is not switching off, it’s switching on!

Moving forward, what is our task?
Our task, then, is to learn to free ourselves from the cultural trance of indoctrination and the burden of suppressing a painful past... to live life spontaneously and at the same time in objective consciousness, so we can respond wisely rather than react impulsively.

So there is no more need to lie or pretend. To do so is to support power struggle, tyranny, low self-esteem and isolation. The truth about ourselves that we learn through well-done personal development brings us closer to authentic freedom, though it might involve taking more risk, and becoming more open and vulnerable in the process. But it's worth it. As human beings we want to be welcomed, for our needs to be honoured, to be able to be strong and still be loved, to be recognized for who we really are. By being honest with our fellow beings and our selves, we can often strike a chord that resonates in every human heart.

Peter Shepherd
Peter Shepherd
Peter Shepherd is the founder and producer of this website. A transformational psychologist by background, he is author of ‘Transforming the Mind.’ Learn more about Peter's life experience and his views on many subjects at his Biography Page. Read More Articles by Peter Shepherd.
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